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quod pro nobis traditum est

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Are good works "good"?

My reading is best described as miscellaneous, mainly theology, philosophy, religion, history, news and other topics. Not being able to afford formal studies, I am constantly schooling myself, especially in the liberal arts.

Daily life is real enough so, for those concerned, my feet are on the ground. I tend to be overly practical so my reading, as rare at it is, serves many purposes - relaxation, learning and stimulation of thought.

One area of reading, related to my vocation, is the homilies of the church fathers. In recent weeks I have read homilies of such as St. Leo the Great, the Venerable Bede (whose feast is on May 27) and St. Cyril of Alexandria.

These homilies are in many ways inspirational. For example, Leo speaks of bearing the Cross adding, "... which for each one is rightly called his, for it is borne by each in his own way and measure. The name persecution is one word; but not one is the reason of the fight; and as a rule there is greater danger in the hidden betrayer, than in the open foe." (Toal, II, 147)

Bede writes, "For as the woman rejoices that a man is born into the world, so also is the Church filled with becoming exultation at the birth of the Christian people into life eternal ." (Toal, II, 334)

Cyril writes, "Rightly then have they been justified who without seeing Him have believed in Christ; but the world will lose the possession of this blessedness, not seeking to possess the justice that comes by faith, preferring to remain in its own wickedness." (Toal, II, 370)

This quote from Cyril catches my eye in that he contrasts being justified by faith with wickedness (ie, sin) rather than placing justifying faith in contrast to good works or the Law. Here faith is opposed to wickedness, not the word that comes from God. As the Apostle James says, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above [even God's Law] . . . Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." The emphasis is not on God's Law as being essentially bad (James: "for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God") but as Law as essentially good and perfect, from God, to lead us from our wickedness (and not away from good works) to the word, that which saves the soul. So the blessed Apostle Peter writes in his first epistle, "I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation."

If good works are from God, they must be good.